Clear to run(?)

About 6 weeks ago, at a press conference, the prime minister claimed that the Election Commission of Bhutan should disqualify the opposition party from taking part in the next round of elections for failing to clear its debts by the 30 June deadline.

Remarkably, the prime minister also suggested that the two members in opposition should not be permitted to run in the next elections … not as members of their current party, not by starting a new party, not by joining another party.

As it turned out, the election commission, having reviewed the status of the two existing parties, decided that both PDP and DPT continue to enjoy their status as registered political parties. That means that PDP will be able to participate in next year’s elections. That also means that the two members in the opposition will be able to run in the next elections.

Okay, that’s clear.

But what’s not clear is if the prime minister, some of the other DPT ministers, and the speaker will be allowed to take part in the 2013 elections?

The prime minister, the speaker and other ministers have all been implicated in the Gyelpozhing “land grab” case. The Anticorruption Commission investigated the case and concluded that 67 of the 99 plots allotted in Gyelpozhing were “illegal”.

The ACC has already issued a “freeze notice” forbidding any transactions on 75 of the plots.  And they have forwarded the case to the Office of the Attorney General in keeping with the Anticorruption Act, Section 128 of which states that OAG “… shall undertake prosecution of persons on the basis of the findings of the Commission for adjudication by a Court.”

But can OAG prosecute members of the government? Chapter 3, Section 12(a) of the OAG Act states that OAG shall “… represent the Government in civil litigation and criminal prosecution before the Courts of Law …”. Furthermore, Chapter 4, Section 20 of the OAG Act declares that, “The Attorney General shall be accountable to the Prime Minister”.

In fact, the OAG Act does not prevent the attorney general from prosecuting the persons charged in this case, as they are being charged as private individuals, and not as members of the government.

But what if OAG is unwilling to prosecute? What if they feel intimidated? And what if they drag their feet? Then what?

That should not happen. But in the unlikely event that it does, ACC is empowered to conduct its own prosecution. According to Section 128(3) of the Anticorruption Act, the ACC may “… carry out its own prosecution of a person charged with an offense under this Act or take over the prosecution process from the Office of Attorney General when the case is:  (a) delayed without valid reason; (b) manipulated; or (c) hampered by interference.”

So whether it’s by OAG or by ACC, the persons implicated in the Gyelpozhing case will be charged.

But that’s not all. According to Section 167(2) of the Anticorruption Act, “ A public servant who is charged with an offense under this Act shall be suspended with effect from the date of the charge till pending the outcome of any appeals.”

That means that once the prime minister, speaker and other the ministers involved are charged in a court of law, they must be suspended.

But even that is not all. Section 179(g) of the Election Act provides that “A person shall be disqualified as a candidate or a member holding an elective office under the Constitution, if he/she: has been accused of felony in a pending case and the competent Court has taken cognizance and charges have been framed against him/her.”

That means that once they are charged, and if they are accused of felony, they must be disqualified from their offices, not just suspended.

That also means that, unless they are acquitted by the courts of law, they cannot take part in next year’s elections.

The first Parliament will complete its term in April 2013. And according to the Constitution, elections must be conducted within the next 90 days. That means that elections must be conducted by July, at the latest. And that means that, to take part in the elections, the accused must be acquitted by June 2013.

That’s just nine months from now. Nine months for the speaker to prove that he didn’t break the law in the way he allotted land to influential people. And nine months for the prime minister, the minister for works and human settlement and the minister of finance to prove that they did not break the law in applying for and accepting large tracks of land in Gyelpozhing.

The Journalist?

Politicians and political parties love media coverage.

The Journalist, a weekly paper, has featured PDP on its cover, directly or indirectly, in four of its last 8 issues.

Therefore, PDP must be happy. Right?

Not exactly. Every one of The Journalist’s stories on PDP during the last two months has a negative bias. And almost every one of them seems to be intended to undermine the PDP, and to discredit its president.

The Journalist began their 1st April cover story by telling readers that:

The talk in town is that Gasa MP, Damchoe Dorji, the only opposition member apart from the opposition leader, may not continue in the People’s Democratic Party should he decide to run in 2013. This will have huge implications, sources say.

“If Damchoe Dorji leaves PDP, this will badly dent the image and credibility of the party and its attempt to resuscitate itself,” said a civil servant. “This will also be a huge blow in particular to the Opposition Leader whose ability to lead will be under scrutiny.”

And in their editorial of the same issue, The Journalist writes that:

With their candidates switching parties and most PDP supporters not very keen to have the opposition leader Tshering Tobgay as the party president, 2013 does not seem to be as exciting as it should be for them.

The cover story of The Journalist’s last issue in April, on 29th April, focuses on PDP’s leadership problems. And most of that issue’s editorial is devoted to explaining why, because of PDP’s debts, the party may not be able to register for the 2013 elections.

Three weeks later, on 20th May, the day after the PDP’s general convention, The Journalist again featured PDP on its cover page, and again talked about the eminent demise of PDP. According to The Journalist, PDP’s new president, who is not trustworthy and who is not likeable, could be “presiding over its funeral”. The story goes on to say that, “almost all the capable candidates from the PDP have already left the party”, quoting unnamed “observers”.

The next week, on 27th May, The Journalist again devoted their cover page on PDP. But the party is painted as “almost a dead horse” and its president is portrayed as unable to lead. And again, The Journalist goes to great lengths to try to convince readers that most of PDP’s earlier candidates have left the party.

I’m flattered that The Journalist considers the PDP worthy of so much attention. Being featured no less than four times in barely two months on the cover of a weekly newspaper is noteworthy. But I’m amused at their determination considering that there’s so much real news competing for the nation’s attention. And I’m amused at their persistence in writing and rewriting the PDP obituary.

Thankfully, The Journalist is read by very few. And thankfully those who read it, don’t take their stories too seriously. It’s quite easy to spot what The Journalist is up to.

State of the party

Last Sunday, in the Bhutan Times…

PM and OL on state funding for parties

Financing political parties

The Royal Audit Authority, in its annual report to the Parliament, pointed out what we all know: that both our political parties are in serious financial problems. As of 30th June 2008, PDP owed Nu 20,326,924 to the Bank of Bhutan and Nu 3,588,232 to other various other suppliers. DPT owed Nu 14,253,975 to the Bank and Nu 7,708,010 to other suppliers.

Yesterday, the National Assembly spent a good hour discussing the Royal Audit Authority’s observations on the financial status of our two political parties. Actually, we did not really discuss the audit observations per se. Instead, we talked about, at length and in great detail, the need to provide state funding for the political parties.

This is not good. During our first session, about a year ago, we’d debated state funding for political parties. And we’d agreed that it would be unconstitutional. In fact, the Chief Justice, who at that time was still the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, publicly declared that state funding for political parties would be unconstitutional. But still, we discussed the issue again.

Some of the arguments our honourable members of parliament, including ministers, presented were shocking. Most of the members proclaimed that, upon closer examination, the Constitution did not specifically prohibit state funding for political parties. Many suggested that the foundations of our democracy would crumble if the existing parties were to fail. Some threatened that political parties, especially a ruling party with a huge mandate, would resort to corrupt means to raise funds. And, one brave member even proposed that laws could be amended to allow state funding.

My views are simple and straightforward. According to Article 15.4(d) of the Constitution, a political party can be registered if, among other things, “It does not accept money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members, and the amount or value shall be fixed by the Election Commission.” Furthermore, the Election Act clearly specifies that political parties can raise funds from only three sources: registration fees, annual membership fees, and voluntary contributions. So obviously, I cannot support any proposal for state funding for political parties.

But what if one or both the existing parties were to collapse? Wouldn’t that affect democracy? Yes. But the show, so to speak, would go on. The importance of the existing parties is overrated. They are not indispensable for our democracy. Should they fail, it would be most inconvenient, and embarrassing, but other parties would surely come forward. And, they wouldn’t make the same mistakes, especially the excesses that have caused both PDP and DPT financial woes.

Now, if politicians, on the other hand, are prepared to knowingly violate the Constitution, we should be scared. It is dangerous for democracy. And it must not be allowed to happen.

Incidentally, less than a month ago, I’d expressed my concerns that our government may try to justify state funding for political parties (read Financing parties).

PDP meeting

About change

About change

Today we organized a special meeting for our financial supporters. During the meeting, we made presentations on the status of our party, and talked about the way forward.

Our supporters resolved that the PDP must continued to be strengthened in order to provide an effective opposition to the government, and to ensure that our people have access to a credible alternate party.

Several supporters offered voluntary financial contributions. Others volunteered to join the fund-raising committee.

Our Punakha party

Yesterday, our secretary general Sonam Jatso and I visited Punakha. The PDP Dzongkhag office there had invited us to attend their general meeting. About 100 party members including members, workers and supporters had gathered to discuss strategies to further strengthen our dzongkhag office.

I was delighted. We lost both the Punakha constituencies last year. And our president, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, who hails from Punakha, resigned to take moral responsibility for the poor election results. Yet, not a single party worker or supporter has left the party. Instead, they are closer and more focused than ever. And they are determined to work hard to revitalize our party.

Now we must do our bit …

PDP Secretary General

Last week, in a quiet ceremony, Lam Kezang Chhoephel, PDP’s secretary general, formally handed over the party’s files to the incoming secretary general, Sonam Jatso.

Lam Kezang joined PDP in July 2007 and served as the party’s first secretary general. He successfully registered PDP as Bhutan’s first political party on 1st September 2007, and was instrumental in establishing and developing PDP’s party offices throughout the country.

Lam Kezang leaves the PDP to join a private company. I thank him from the bottom of my heart. And I wish him success.

A unique example

Last year, in Sherubste College, a student asked me: “We’ve been told, many times, that democracy in Bhutan is unique – please tell me how it is unique.”

The fact of the matter is that all democracies are based on, more or less, the same principles, and none can claim to be really unique. But, on the other hand, no two democracies are exactly the same, making every democracy, unique in its own way. So to claim that our particular form of democracy is unique, in the way it is structured for example, would not make much sense.

But in one regard we are unique, and in another we must aspire to be so.

We are truly unique in the way democracy was introduced in our country – gifted, so to speak, from the Golden Throne to the people. This, we must never forget. And always celebrate.

And we must aspire to be unique in another way: in the quality of politicians that we elect. In every democracy, politicians are viewed with suspicion. They are considered, and many times proven, to be a greedy, corrupt and power-hungry lot who will go to any length to win, but who, once elected, can’t be trusted to keep their promises.

So this was my reply to the very concerned Sherubtse student: “If you want a unique democracy, insist that our politicians are unique. Insist that they empathize with the common people and that they serve them with humility. Insist that they keep their promises – that they actually walk the talk. Insist that they are the champions of our democracy. And the role models for our youth. Insist that they are unique. Then, and only then, we’ll have a unique democracy.”

Why do I remember Sherubtse? Because today, 24th March, is exactly one year since we elected 47 people to the National Assembly. So it is a fitting time to reflect if we, politicians, are fulfilling His Majesty’s vision for a vibrant and honest democracy. And to see if we, politicians, are living up to the hopes and aspirations of our people. To consider if our politicians are unique.

One politician has already proven that he is unique. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup may have lost the elections last year, but, by all accounts, he has become even more popular. Yet, in spite of his growing popularity and the strong appeals from all over our country, he resigned as PDP’s president. And he resigned for one reason alone: to take full moral responsibility for his party’s loss in the general elections last year.

Now that, in Bhutan’s context, is unique. And should be emulated by our politicians. Perhaps then, we can claim to have a truly unique democracy.

2nd general convention

The PDP held its second general convention yesterday.

Despite strong appeals, from every party member, PDP president Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup resigned, taking full “moral responsibility” for the party’s loss in Bhutan’s first general elections.

The general convention confirmed the following nominations:

President: Tshering Tobgay
Vice Presidents: Damcho Dorji, Ritu Raj Chhettri, Yeshey Dorji
Secretary General: Sonam Jatsho
Treasurer: Namgay Dorji
Spokesman: Dr Tandin Dorji

The general convention also approved a new executive board.

PDP general convention

Tomorrow, 22nd March, PDP will hold its general convention.

We anticipate a large turnout. People from every dzongkhag have telephoned to inform us that they’ll be participating in the meeting.

The convention is open to all party members. To attend, please be at the RAPA hall by 9:30 AM.